Niger is experiencing an explosive situation with unforeseeable consequences. Once the ultimatum that a group of neighboring countries led by Nigeria had given to the coup military to return power to the democratic government had expired and before the summit that will bring these countries together on Thursday to decide how to act, the United States increases its involvement in the conflict. Washington supports the efforts to try to restore constitutional order after the coup d’état by General Abdourahamane Tchiani and to obtain the return of President Mohamed Bazoum, according to Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The head of US diplomacy has also warned about the role that the Russian paramilitary group Wagner, already present in other neighboring countries, could play.
Washington is very concerned about what is happening in Niger, a country of 25 million inhabitants and key in the fight against Islamic extremist groups in the Sahel. The United States maintains a military base with a thousand soldiers in that nation, precisely to deal with these radical organizations. Under the pro-Western Bazoum, Niamey had become a stronghold in the fight against such terrorism and an oasis of relative stability in a highly volatile region where animosity against the West is running high — especially against the United States and France, the former colonial power—as sympathy for Russia grows.
The fear is that Niger will follow the path of Mali and Burkina Faso, two countries in the region now ruled by military juntas hostile to the West. Both countries have already sent delegations to Niamey. Added to this fear is the very real possibility that the Wagner group, very present in Africa, will take advantage of the uncertainty after the coup to establish itself in the country and gain influence for itself and for Moscow in a region that is as volatile as it is strategic. Some reports suggested that Niger’s military junta may have already asked the organization for help. Wagner’s leader, Evgeni Prigozhin, urged the junta’s military to call him “by phone”, in a voice message on the Telegram social network
Washington has sent the acting number two in the State Department, Victoria Nuland, to Niamey, the capital of Niger, to try to meet with the leaders of the coup perpetrated two weeks ago. So far, without success. The diplomat has only been received by the person in charge of Defense, General Moussa Barmou, and she has not been able to see Tchiani, the former head of the constitutional president’s bodyguard who became the leader of the coup.
“Diplomacy is of course the preferred way to resolve this situation,” Blinken said in an interview with Radio France International. “It is the current position of ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States). It is our position. In any case, we support ECOWAS efforts to restore constitutional order.”
ECOWAS, headed by Nigeria, is trying to open a dialogue to reverse the coup. But he has also warned that he does not rule out the use of force to restore Bazoum, now detained by the junta, to power. The organization is expected to make a decision at the emergency meeting called for Thursday.
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Tchiani has ignored the calls and has begun to appoint ministers to form a new government. Ali Mahamane Lamine Zeine, formerly the head of the economy, has been appointed as prime minister. In addition, the country’s new officials on Tuesday rejected the entry of a tripartite delegation made up of representatives of ECOWAS, the African Union and the United Nations, which was scheduled to arrive in Niamey to meet with the military.
“I am in close contact with President Bazoum, with many leaders in Africa, and we are all working towards the same objective: the restoration of constitutional order,” the US Secretary of State pointed out in statements to the Qatari television station Al Jazeera. .
Washington is keeping an eye on what the Wagner paramilitary group, which is already present in Mali, can do. According to Blinken, the mercenary organization is already looking to “take advantage” of the instability in Niger.
“I think that what has happened, and continues to happen, in Niger has not been instigated by Russia or by Wagner, but… they tried to take advantage of it,” said the head of US diplomacy in statements to the BBC. Blinken warned of the consequences that opening the door to Russian mercenaries would have for Niger. “Every time this Wagner group has entered a site, death, destruction and exploitation have followed… insecurity has grown, not reduced.”
Blinken’s warnings are added to those that Bazoum himself had already launched last week. “With an invitation from the coup authors and their regional allies, the entire central Sahel region could be brought under Russian influence through the Wagner group, whose brutal terrorism has been fully exposed in Ukraine,” the president wrote on a podium in the washington post.
“Extremely Difficult” Conversations
From Niamey, Nuland has assured in statements to the media that the military junta understands the implications of giving facilities to the Russian mercenary group. The deputy secretary of state – acting because she has not yet been confirmed by the US Congress – has acknowledged that her talks with Niger’s military chiefs have been “extraordinarily difficult”.
Tchani did not agree to hold a meeting with her. Nuland had to resign himself to conveying his message to Barmou, the military chief: that Niger will lose hundreds of millions of dollars in US assistance if it does not return to constitutional order. Washington has already canceled the delivery of a hundred million dollars in development aid and security assistance after the coup. “We have made it absolutely clear what is at stake in our relationship, and that by law we will have to cut economic and other support if democracy is not restored,” pointed out Blinken’s number two.
Until now, the leaders of the coup have turned a deaf ear to these claims. “I am quite firm in their opinion of how they want to go forward, and it does not coincide with the Constitution of Niger,” he added.
The EU still sees “room for mediation” until Thursday
Silvia Ayuso (Brussels)
The European Union believes that there is still “room for mediation” in Niger ahead of Thursday’s special meeting of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to decide on the next steps after the ultimatum expired on Sunday. regional organization to the coup leaders to restore democratic order in the country. Even so, said the community spokesman for Foreign Affairs, Peter Stano, Europe has so far supported ECOWAS in its decisions and will continue to do so, whatever it decides at the crucial meeting on Thursday in Abuja.
Although “there is still room for mediation” in the next few hours, ECOWAS “is the leading body in this situation.” The high representative for Foreign Policy of the EU, Josep Borrell, “has been very clear” in his “firm support” for the organization in the face of the military coup and its efforts to “seek a solution” and “restore” the democratic order in Niger, Stano declared at a press conference in Brussels. A support that he, he has underlined, will continue ahead of the meeting of the African countries on Thursday in the Nigerian capital, where the possibility of taking military action against the coup leaders will be analyzed.
The EU, the spokesman recalled, has maintained close contacts in recent days with African officials and the international community to discuss the situation after the military coup. Because what is happening in Niger is an issue that affects not only the country, but security “in the entire region”, he has stressed. Hence, he has indicated, the “firmness” of the European position, which has suspended for the moment all cooperation and programs with Niger.
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